Literary Agents: The Right Way to Nag

Jody Rein Nagging

You’ve sent off your query to an literary agent and heard…nothing.

Or (heaven be praised) you heard something!  The agent requested a sample from your book or your proposal, you  sent it exactly as required…and no response.

What do you do?

An Unsolicited Query: Should You Ask Again?

With just a couple exceptions, if you have sent a query to an agent and heard nothing, do nothing. There are lots of agents in the publishing sea. Try someone else. Don’t worry that your email has been lost; it probably hasn’t. A “no response” is a “no.”

Exception 1: You have a personal connection to the agent. You’re a friend of her friend, or an editor has recommended you contact her. If there’s a real connection there and you haven’t heard back, it is possible the note has gotten lost.

Exception 2:  You really did experience a technical snafu, and you’re not sure if your email went out.

Exception 3: If you really really want to work with a particular agent, and another agent has expressed strong interest. (Note: if another agent has actually offered representation, I wouldn’t recommend reaching out to someone who hasn’t even answered your query. That seems pretty unfair to the agent who offered.)

Big Boo-Boo in Your Query?

Mortification! You just realized you put the wrong agent’s name in your letter! Or gotten your facts wrong. Or forgot to include your best sales point. Can you send out a correction?

Nope. Alas. The correction will not be welcome.*

*Unless it’s really funny.

The Right Words: Unsolicited Query Re-Send

If you’re in one of the exceptional situations listed above, here’s how you might preface your second attempt:

“Dear Mr. Literary Agent:

Please forgive this second query! Our mutual friend xxx suggested I write. Generally I understand that “no response” means “no,” but given our personal connection I thought it was possible my first query didn’t reach you.”

or “Dear Mr. Literary Agent:

Please forgive me if you’ve seen this query before! Generally I understand that “no response” means “no,” but I’ve just learned my dog ate 75 of my outgoing emails the day I sent yours. I suspect my first attempt may not have reached your desk.”

or “Dear Mr. Literary Agent:

Please forgive me for writing again. Several agents have responded positively to my query for xxx, and asked to review my work. I had so hoped that you would be interested; I heard you speak at the xxxx and was very impressed. Generally I understand that “no response” means “no,” but I thought under the circumstances it was worth one more try.

The Literary Agent asks for Sample Writing–Then Silence

I hate to admit it–I do this. I don’t mean to. What happens: I ask to review material, and it’s not quite right. I feel the author deserves a thoughtful response. Thoughtful responses take time. Time I don’t have. I put the material into the “give thoughtful response” pile. Time passes. And passes.

Would a note from the author sway me to a “yes?” Probably not. But I welcome the nudge.

What (and When) to Say

  • If you have given the agent an exclusive look, don’t wait more than 30 days unless you have explicitly agreed to a longer time frame. It’s fair for an agent to ask for an exclusive look. But not to hold up your career. If the agent doesn’t respond within the agreed-upon time frame, nag away. If you like the agent, give her a chance to explain before moving on. Example:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Just wanted to follow up on your request to read XXX. We agreed on a 30-day period of exclusivity, which began DATE. Have you decided if you are interested in pursuing? I would appreciate your letting me know either way as soon as possible, as a few other agents have requested the material.

I very much hope to work with you, so I will delay sending the material out to others until DATE. After that, you will no longer have my work exclusively, but I would welcome your response any time.

In any case, thanks so much for your time and consideration.

  • If you have not given the agent an exclusive look, 30 days is still a reasonable time frame.

Dear Ms. Agent,

Just wanted to follow up on your request to read XXX, which I sent to your offices DATE.

Would you be able to give me a sense of when you might be able to review it?

As you know, this submission is not exclusive, but I’m keen to work with you and look forward to your response.

In any case, thanks so much for your time and consideration. I’m thrilled that you’re reviewing my work.

  • If you still don’t get a response, it’s probably worth just one more try after another 30 days. Be polite and brief  (and complimentary) in your note. You might want to add this:

(If you’re not interested, by the way, I don’t need details!)

Agents Do Know What They’ve Requested

Most literary agents track requested material, and feel bad if they haven’t responded. (I’m so sorry, Lance and Steve!) And, to be harsh on our kind–if an agent can’t get it together to respond, that’s probably a big red flag. The agent isn’t quite interested enough, or is conflicted, or is over-booked. An agent who takes forever to respond to polite inquiries about requested material is probably not the best publishing partner for you, at least not right now.

Quick Question*
Should I buy the Xlibris marketing package?

publishing questions
Q. I am currently self-publishing with Xlibris and they have been aggressively marketing for me to spend additional money on one of their marketing packages. I haven’t even seen the final product yet. Should I take them up on their “special offer?”

A. We can’t speak specifically to the Xlibris packages, but can tell you generally that there is NO one size fits all when it comes to book marketing, and generic packages are rarely a good idea. Books must be promoted and marketed to succeed, of course. Most books disappear. So spending time and money on marketing is essential. But the type of marketing that works, whether you’re publishing fiction or nonfiction, is marketing that reaches people who are predisposed to purchase your book. Targeted marketing to people who have demonstrated a willingness to buy similar books in the past, and to people who are interested in your subject matter. It’s hard to reach those people through a generic press release that gets sent out to a thousand media outlets who will delete it before they read it. You won’t find your readers with generic review package, either, or [Read more…]

Quick Question*
When do I look for an agent? Before or after the book is finished?

publishing questions
When to look for an agent?

Short Answer

If you’re writing a novel, don’t submit until after you’ve written and rewritten the novel. In other words: after.
If you’re writing nonfiction, you’ll submit a query for a proposal, not a finished book. Agents and publishers base their nonfiction publishing decisions on proposals, and don’t expect you to finish until after the contract is signed. So: before.

Longer Answer: Look for an Agent early; Submit Later

Don’t submit your query until your work is ready (the proposal or the novel), but do start researching in advance. While you’re writing and researching, keep your eyes open and build up your list of potential agents:

  • Create a file of potential agents (digital or a real folder)
  • Note the names of agents that are acknowledged in your favorite books
  • Subscribe to a reputable publishing newsletter or two (Publishers Weekly; Publishers Marketplace, Writers Digest) and notice the names of agents that pop up. Writers Digest interviews agents looking for new clients all the time.
  • Use Google alerts to get book news from one or two reputable sources (USA Today, New York Times)
  • Ask around whenever you run into other writers (your writing group, writing workshops, online groups).

Best of luck!

Quick Question*
What is Most Important to Book Publishers?

publishing questions
Q. What’s the main thing a traditional book publisher considers before signing an author?

A. Yes, publishing decision-making can be complex, and acquisitions can take days and involve many people. But it always comes down to one simple question: will people buy this book? No market=no money for publisher=no money for author.

Seems pretty intuitive, doesn’t it? Yet 9 out of 10 queries that cross my desk (or zoom through my email) don’t seem to consider this fact.

And 99 out of 100 people derisively calling traditional book publishers “gatekeepers” and demanding that all books [Read more…]